Europe Key questions in German coalition crisis

13 February, 2018

Key questions in German coalition crisis

Key questions in German coalition crisis

Photo: Martin Schulz, right, would like to hand over leadership of the SPD to Andrea Nahles, left | Sascha Schuermann/AFP via Getty Images

What happens next as Social Democrats and Merkel’s conservatives try to quell unrest.

Though the Social Democrats (SPD) and Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc agreed to a coalition deal last week, the SPD’s more than 450,000 members still have to vote to approve the pact, with a decision expected on March 4. And the SPD has plunged into infighting and soul-searching.

Here are some key questions about the SPD’s leadership crisis and the prospects of a new coalition government, more than four months after an inconclusive general election.

What’s happening with the SPD?

SPD chairman Martin Schulz wants to hand over the leadership to the party’s parliamentary group chief, Andrea Nahles, on a caretaker basis. SPD bosses then want Nahles to be confirmed as leader at a party congress.

“I’m in favor of a grassroots candidate and want to again give members a voice and genuinely involve them in this decision-making process” — Simone Lange, mayor of Flensburg

But this process of allowing the party’s upper echelons to select an interim leader has sparked complaints. Some SPD members have argued that the party should respect protocol by which one of the SPD’s elected deputies (Nahles is not one of them) takes over temporarily after a party leader steps down.

SPD Bundestag member Marco Bülow told German radio on Tuesday that giving the interim leadership to Nahles meant no other candidate would stand a chance of winning the post on a permanent basis. Bülow and others have also called for a vote of the entire membership to pick the next long-term leader, not just delegates at a party conference.

Adding to the turmoil, the mayor of the northern German city of Flensburg, Simone Lange, threw her hat into the ring to challenge Nahles.

Lange said in a statement that the position of party leader “should not be determined internally by a small group.”

“I’m in favor of a grassroots candidate and want to again give members a voice and genuinely involve them in this decision-making process,” Lange added.

On top of all this, Schulz’s decision Friday to abandon his plan to become foreign minister left the Social Democrats looking for someone else to fill the post. Schulz had faced strong pressure from SPD members not to go into government as he had previously said he would not serve as a minister under Merkel.

The upheavals in the party leadership also raised new questions about whether SPD members will back the coalition deal.

What’s going on with the other parties?

Delegates from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) will be asked to approve the coalition pact at a party conference February 26. Unlike the SPD, the CDU will not hold a vote for all of its members on the “grand coalition” deal. At the conference, Merkel will seek to calm unrest among CDU officials, who have expressed anger at the coalition deal — especially the loss of the finance ministry to the SPD. Many also want to see new faces among the CDU’s ministers.

Nevertheless, CDU delegates are expected to back the coalition deal.

The leadership groups of the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, already agreed to the deal last week without a membership vote.

Who will be the new foreign minister?

Schulz’s sudden abandonment of his plan to become foreign minister has left the SPD scrambling to find an alternative. Potential candidates mooted by German media and pundits include Niels Annen and Thomas Oppermann. Annen was chairman of the SPD’s youth wing (known as the Jusos) for three years and has been foreign affairs spokesman for the parliamentary group since 2014. Oppermann is a former leader of the SPD group in the Bundestag. He became a vice president of the parliament after September’s general election. Another possible candidate is current Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

It is unlikely that the current foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, will retain his post. Although he has enjoyed considerable popularity in the job, he angered many in the SPD with an outspoken attack on party leaders last week.

What happens if SPD members vote against the coalition?

There are two possibilities: a new general election or a minority government. Merkel is reluctant to lead a minority government but both the conservatives and the SPD fear what a new election could bring. The latest INSA poll showed a new low point since the September vote for both the CDU/CSU (29.5 percent) and the SPD (16.5 percent).

Meanwhile, the far-right Alternative for Germany could make gains, with the same poll showing the party at 15 percent support, compared to the 12.6 percent they won in the general election.


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